- Florian Bellmann
When starting off as a software engineer one looks up to the senior engineers. You earn experience, work on projects or products and explore the facets of the game. You learn about the different technologies, approaches and ways of working. For some, it happens sooner, for some later, but most engineers become a senior eventually. From then on, one gains even more experience and broadens knowledge. We continue to become better at what we do and learn more languages as well as patterns, but overall we are already doing the normal things excellently.
But at the same time for a lot of engineers hit a plateau. You don't 10X your results anymore like you used to in your first years as a developer. Perhaps there is even a slight insecurity about how things should continue or what the next goal should be.
Some developers work on the T- or even V-shape. Some explore DevOps at that point. Mostly out of interest. How can we think more structurally about the situation?
Salary and business impact
Talking about salaries and career trajectories in companies, we need to remember that it all comes down to business. The company needs to be profitable and your role in it contributes to the company's success. This is also why salaries are usually tied to business impact. As a developer that might not be what we like to think about primarily, because the engineering itself is most interesting. It's how it is though.
If your salary expectations are high, you need to think about how we can create the biggest business impact. That in turn will give you the best negotiation position.
This advice is not limited to seniors but applies to any employee.
If you are an engineer, you have technical skills. Use these and combine them with other fields.
Tech skills + X = Even higher value
In my current company we call these combinations multipliers. Factors that you apply to your knowledge to gain more leverage.
Areas in which you can multiply your value could be:
- Mentoring, teaching/educating, and enabling others around you
- Sales, offers, Estimations
- Technical consulting
- Formal leadership and supervision
- Marketing, attract talents to your company (I.e. talk about tech topics, write blog posts, ...)
- Change management and bring your company/department forward (Quality, Architecture, Infrastructure, ...)
Exploring possible options
The situation is different in big FAANG-style companies. The hierarchies are much bigger and one has options to become a principal engineer, staff engineer or architect. Most of the engineers in the industry work in smaller companies though, where those type of options are more limited. Which is not a disadvantage necessarily. In smaller companies the ways in which you can multiply your business impact are tremendous. Oftentimes engineers in smaller companies work closer with other departments than in big companies. This makes improvements easier and they can influence larger portions of the company's staff by their actions.
I worked in companies of up to 200 people. Using a combination of soft- and hard skills together with my technical knowledge works very well. Supporting different departments with technical knowledge opened up various ways in which I was able to shape companies approaches. Along the way, more business value was created and career trajectories became clearer.
For example, consulting project managers and customers about technical cost reduction can lead to follow-up orders as well as increase customer trust in your company.
If you find new project deals from the sales department are missing crucial work packages for architecture design or quality assurance, help them by creating text blocks or explanations about these for customer facing meetings. So they can do their job better with the technical support that you provided.
Think about what other areas in your company are of interest to you. Ask your colleagues from other departments about their challenges and how you could help them from a tech perspective.
USE the knowledge that you acquired. Use it outside of or around coding itself. Sell yourself.
What is your business leverage?
How can you multiply your value?